Creativity in the Classroom: When it Comes to Digital Literacy, Small Changes Can Have a Big Impact

by Alex Gay

posted on 04-29-2019

According to MarketWatch, creativity is the No. 1 career skill employers are looking for.

“The importance of fostering student creativity in higher education has been widely recognized, due to the need for preparing young people for the uncertain and complex world of work, which requires individuals to be able to use their creative abilities,” says Nielsen Pereira, assistant professor of educational psychology and research methodology at Purdue University. “Despite this recognition, the encouragement of creativity in higher education has been a challenge for faculty.”

How can educators overcome this challenge? One way to foster creativity is by focusing on digital literacy through small projects in the classroom. Educators can achieve this by creating varied working situations and finding a balance between projects that encourage convergent and divergent thinking.

Create varied working situations

Creativity is not just about what you do, but about the environment in which you do it. Students need to feel comfortable being creative, but they also need to not feel like they are in a rut. To encourage creativity in your institution, you need to have “sufficiently varied and diverse working situations to enable all students to be creative.” How can instructors achieve this?

Interrupt the routine,” says Sarah Rose Cavanagh, writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Especially once you’ve hit the groove in your semester where everything is running smoothly and students now can anticipate everything that is going to happen in your classroom, shake things up… If you find that certain successful strategies prove less effective as the semester progresses, try a dramatic shift in routine.”

Dramatically shifting the routine can be as simple as inserting a small creative project into your schedule — no matter your discipline. One idea is to have students spend about an hour creating a 10- to 30-second video using just three lines of dialogue, two camera shots, and one camera motion or one form of movement within the shot. (The exercise is appropriately titled “Three, Two, One.”) Students start by planning the script, storyboard, and shot lists. They film the scene, then edit the piece using video editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro or Premiere Rush.

Beyond digital creative projects, other ideas to encourage creativity are to find a good balance between group and individual assignments, make storytelling a part of your regular projects, and allow students options for the medium they use to present their assignments.

Build a foundation for creativity by encouraging convergent thinking

In education, we often focus on convergent thinking, which includes evaluating ideas and options and making decisions. Convergent thinking is the disciplined part of creativity, the foundation for generating ideas through divergent thinking.

Educators should make sure their students have the opportunity to practice convergent thinking by

One great way to have students practice convergent thinking is through self and peer evaluations. James Kinney, the coordinator of the foundation art and design program at George Brown College, suggests a weekly self- and peer-evaluated meme project.

These small weekly projects “take a social media campaign approach to encourage students to actively respond to and engage with a range of current, socially, economically, and politically important issues using text image and social media platforms.” For the project, students are given a topic to discuss and then they create a meme that creatively comments on the topic. Students each evaluate their own work and the work of one peer using a provided rubric, and then the whole class evaluates the submissions collectively.

Creative projects like this give students the opportunity to enjoy themselves but also to practice the critical thinking skills that comprise convergent thinking, ultimately leading to improved digital literacy.

Give opportunities for divergent thinking

Through divergent thinking, students generate lots of ideas and options. Divergent thinking includes

One idea to encourage divergent thinking is to assign students to create a short poetry podcast.

Students use Adobe Audition to “showcase a poem by reading it aloud and explaining its historical context, formal features, and major themes. Students will offer a context, reading, and interpretation of a poem to make their chosen poem more accessible to a general audience. In doing so, students will practice critical close reading skills, oral presentation skills, and research skills with the goals of increasing understanding of and fostering appreciation for poetry.”

This project doesn’t have to be about poetry — faculty can choose any specific topic that is relevant to their course. Regardless of the topic, students may have an idea of what a podcast should sound like. But by specifically encouraging divergent thinking, faculty can help students build truly creative podcasts. Especially during the planning phase, students can generate lots of out-of-the-box ideas to help them balance the project’s constraints (convergent thinking) with its creative potential (divergent thinking).

By thinking beyond traditional research papers, lectures, and dissertations, creativity can be effectively incorporated into classwork. Faculty can foster creativity by introducing small projects in the classroom. By creating varied working situations and finding a balance between projects that encourage convergent and divergent thinking, students will develop creativity, enjoying their classwork more and being better prepared for the workplace.

Find inspiration and tips for sparking creativity in your institution.

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